Sunday, March 25, 2012

Philippine Notes: San Agustin Church

This photo was taken at San Agustin Church (finished in 1607) within the historic walled city of Intramuros in Manila.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Philippine Notes: God is Love

We took a ride on God is Love yesterday morning, one of a thousand jeepneys that own the streets of Manila, renting out space to pedicabs and pedestrians. The ride to Malate Church a result of careful bargaining with my  wife totaled 20 cents, regardless of the distance, a flat rate on God is Love's route.  Jeepney nicknames are on placards right above the windshield: 3 Brothers and a Sister, The Nazarene, California,  Janice, Javelin, the cleverly named Jesusa, Marilyn Ley and Fidel. References to religion and American pop culture abound, Angry Bird, Sacremento Kings, Tweety bird logos plastered on jeepney sides, all punctuated with a "God bless our trip" and "how is my driving?" on the back, framing the cave you climb into. 

Hopping in the front cab after being signaled by the driver, we headed down chaotic streets filled with motorcycles, pedestrians, squatters, pedi and metered cabs all coexisting in a shared space, horns with quick beeps warning those on foot or slower vehicles being passed, lanes being doubled or tripled is common. The cab was all bedazzled mini-lights, rosary beads, scapulas, change bin, and small photos of Jesus with the stigmata.  

In the book I am reading, the author describes these decorations as "...the et cetera of our lives the jeepney cannot live without." I could not have described it better. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Philippine Notes: Brownouts

The city paper publishes the power capacity and consumption forecast for the day. Based on the local news that I have seen, brownouts (power outages) do not seen to be a a daily concern in Manila but more so in Mindanao.

Philippine Notes: Maamsir

We had a full day in Manila today, explored Intramuros, local market San Andres, Remedios Circle, a supermarket, quite possibly the biggest mall I have ever been in, endless streets, noise and sensory overload. 

1. I had read about the neon lights of Roxas blvd, 8 lanes tracing Manila Bay but had assumed these were references to restos with air con, casinos, girly clubs and more.  Turns out there are literal street lights with thick poles, topped with stars, circles and other shapes seemingly constructed completely out of neon (both pole and ornament). Not to mention the trees strung with neon lights on the street corners like Christmas gone Vegas. 

2. We have yet to discover how to say "no" effectively to the tour operators, pearl, sunglass, hat and jewelry vendors, taxi cabs, and tricycle operators that spot you and persist to no end. 

3. Commerce is everywhere in this city. That, pollution, noise, car horns, people, jeepneys and chaos are constants. 

4. It's an odd experience to carry on a conversation with a Manila resident, our guide within Intramuros, and listen to him describe how the GI Joe soldiers carpet bombed his city during WWII and see buildings still in ruins 60 years after the fact that are still being rebuilt.

5. Everyone greets us as maamsir when we walk into stores, hotel or restaurants. It's sing song as well, carried out in a cadence that is musical, friendly and endlessly enjoyable to listen to.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Philippine Notes: Basketball

While we are waiting for our flight in Tagbilaran, listening to three guitar players play La Bamba in a crowded two story, five room building full of yellow humidity, decorated with Christmas ornaments randomly scotch-taped to the ceiling, flights announced with the wail of an air raid siren, I notice that there is a basketball court on the tarmac outside of the terminal building. Airports here are just different. 

Philippine Notes: Mabuhay

Mabuhay: Similar to aloha and in my mind, also similar to mahalo which you hear often in Hawaii. Whereas in Hawaii, mahalo means thank you and aloha is a commonly used greeting, mabuhay is the Tagalog word for "long live" and is often used in toasts or as a phrase to show hospitality. Similar to mahalo, you will sometimes hear mabuhay at the end of announcements over the airport PA.

Today we leave Panglao and Bohol and head to Manila for two and a half days. This part of the trip has been breathtaking. I am running out of superlatives. Mabuhay. 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Philippine Notes: 1.5 Acres

We went snorkeling for our first time yesterday off of Balicasag Island, which is about a 30 minute boat ride from Panglao. The entire experience was incredible.
1. For $100, we were able to rent a boat for the day, for just two people. This place just jumped a notch on the retirement option list.
2. I'm not sure we have ever seen water this clear. Apparently, we also lucked out in that March is one of the best times of the year to go snorkeling in the Philippines due to the fact that this month is one of the months with the calmest seas.
3. On the beach at Balicasag, you can walk up to a small tent, pick from an array of seafood and they cook it up for you while you are out exploring the coral reef. The crabs had amazing patterns on their shells.
4. Having never been snorkeling, I was not sure what to expect but this exceeded my wildest expectations. The sheer amount and diversity of fish on the coral reef here was amazing. Along the edge of the reef, there was a massive sea wall of coral that stretched down to the ocean floor. Seeing geography like that under water was amazing. Watching our guide Lydio, born and raised on this 1.5 acre island in the middle of the Bohol Sea, dive down that wall into the darkness with nothing but the clothes on his back and a mask covering his eyes was a beautiful sight.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Philippine Notes: Retirement, the economy and mangos

1. We met a man from a province outside of Manila named Abe who told us how the Philippines is one of the places that a lot of people come to retire. After experiencing the cost of living here, this does not surprise me in the least. I would consider retiring here simply to get massages every day for the price that we spend on a coffee, latte and a pastry at Starbucks back in the states.

2. Had breakfast with a woman from Peru yesterday, who currently lives in Singapore. In a small world connection she has family in Centreville, Va (where I used to live for a year) and her husband grew up in NJ about 30 minutes from my old home. Her reflections on the what it is like to visit the US now compared to prior to the financial crisis were fascinating. To hear someone from another country describe the US as a place of hope and dreams but then hear them describe it as a place now, where there is "so much sadness"...that was eye opening. "Singapore is like Miami except everything in Singapore works."

3. The mangos here are incredible and seemingly limitless.

Philippine Notes: Boodle Fight

Boodle Fight:
1. Military style eating where food is placed on top of banana leaves along a series of long tables. The "fight" is essentially a reference to the fact that it is "eat what you can get."
2. Philippine military term for a mess hall banquet where soldiers, enlisted men and officers eat from these banana leaves with their hands as a symbol of camaraderie, brotherhood and equality.
3. The term potentially has its origins in pre-World War II West Point slang.
4. My second of four meals yesterday as we said goodbye to a number of new friends that we met at the wedding here. Incredible pork and chicken adobo.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Philippine Notes: Bahala Na

Yesterday we were able to sleep in, and by sleep in I mean that our body clock still gets us up at 5 am or earlier but on this particular day, we finally had no more planes to catch. Getting up super early has its perks though, breakfast overlooking the Bohol Sea, morning swim in crystal clear water, morning yoga (for one of us at least) and a great walk along the beach. Following half a day spent relaxing, we then headed out to the wedding.
I come close to shedding tears sometimes during some pretty random occasions. Movies like Hitch for instance...don't ask. However, last night I was just one of many I think who were brought to the edge by what was a magical night. The wedding ceremony and reception was a marathon, starting at 2 pm and ending for us at 10 pm (at which time the party was just really getting started I think). The ceremony was held in an 18th century church in Dauis, which was an amazing setting for what was a 90+ minute Pilipino mass (fans handed out). Following the ceremony, we headed back to Amorita and the party began and for all I know it is still going. The food was amazing, gigantic prawns, marlin, squid, pork of all kinds, and more traditional Pilipino desserts than I could count. Every speech or toast was eloquent and everyone seemed to be an entertainer, singer, or dancer, with wedding attendees from literally almost every continent as we met people from Chile, Netherlands, Turkey, Minnesota, Brazil, Bangladesh, India, Australia and of course, the Philippines.
1. The Philippine people have a Tagalog saying called Bahala Na, or "Leave it to God," or "whatever will be will be." In a setting like this, one can easily see how this type of approach to life works.
2. Coca Cola signs are everywhere here, just like Johannesburg, South Africa actually. It's almost like everyone has opened a small shop next to their house, covered it in Coke signs, and then given a nickname to their store. You cannot turn a corner without bumping into Lucky's, Bong Bong, Angels or Tubag's corner store. They are everywhere.
3. I have seen at least 5 or 6 people walking either goats or pigs down the road with a leash made of rope. Most of the goats here are really small and it is common to see either a single goat or cow in the backyard of a home, idly passing the day.
4. Simple things like seeing a starfish in the water for the first time, stumbling on a mountain of coconut shells or watching a local guard shush away a stray village dog from an 18th century church, these are the types of things I want to remember and why I love to travel.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Philippine Notes: Morning beach walk

Philippine Notes: The parking lot is full...

Yesterday is a blur. We woke up early in the morning in Manila and hopped on a Philippine Air flight to  Tagbilaran on the island of Bohol. From Tagbilaran we took a bus to Panglao Island where the wedding will be held. The drive through Tagbilaran was literally overwhelming, every sight along the way something new that I had never seen before. This truly is a different world. 

We settled in at the Amorita resort ( and had an amazing meal while we waited for our room to be ready; the seafood here is fantastic. When we were able to get to our room (splurging on a garden villa) we were greeted by our own personal cold plunge pool, a beautiful room and a toilette that opens up outside to the island air. Interesting! After a short break we had to head out to the rehearsal dinner at the Bohol Bee Farm (, an organic farm and resort where we were treated to traditional Philippine crafts, massages, dancing and a buffet of organic dishes for dinner.  After dinner we headed back to Amorita and immediately crashed. Saturday is when everything will start to slow down for us...

1. The power lines in Tagbilaran are like nothing I have ever seen before. Thousands of them crowd the streets and form an amazingly complex spider web that must be impossible to maintain.

2. I haven't put my finger on it yet but the Philippines has a much greater impact on me as far as being in a foreign place, even more so than South Africa. On a simple drive through the country side or city, my brain can barely keep up.

3. Best banana shake I have ever had is at Amorita.  

4. Religion is at the forefront of most things here. The roads in Bohol are crowded with tricycles (motorcycles with 3 wheels and an extra seat). Each one is decorated to the hilt and topped off with a religious quote on the back. 

5. When you are landing in Tagbilaran, the pilot gives you frequent status updates on the availability of "parking spaces," a phrase I never thought I would hear about a plane I was on. One runway only, and very limited room to deplane meant we had to circle for a bit until "a parking space opened up."

Philippine Notes: Observe Cleanliness

We probably spent less than 15 hours in Manila since we needed to get down to Bohol for a wedding. It takes less than 10 minutes for the city to hit your senses.

1. People are everywhere and if there is any order to the traffic, pedestrian, jeepney, motorcycle patterns, they eluded me.

2. Everyone was super friendly. So friendly that our car driver offered me fertility supplements when he found out that we has been married for 6 years with no kids. According to him, oranges work too.

3. Visual and audio noise everywhere in the city. This will be a perfect place to explore when we have a couple of days here after the wedding.

4. Pollution and smog were prevalent, more so than any other city I've been in. Saw a road sign today that read: Observe Cleanliness. Not a piece of paper hung up but an official looking street sign.

Seeing as our time was so short, these impressions are fleeting. We stop back in Manila next week for 2 days and I'm excited to see more.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Philippine Notes: 4 down 1 to go...

Yesterday was a marathon, flights from Lafayette to Houston to Honolulu to Guam to Manila. Not a single connection missed and bags arrived with us. Knock on wood. Today we head south to Bohol where my wife's friend is getting married. Yesterday took 24 hours or more of traveling so it was more than a bit challenging but I have no doubt it's going to be worth it. Throughout our stay I'll only have wifi access to the Internet so I am going to be a slightly infrequent correspondent (kind of par for the course in other words). You'll find occasional pictures and touts on Twitter as well.

Random notes:

1. Apparently I like to rehash old action films on long flights. Watched Batman Begins and Any Given Sunday on the way over. That speech Pacino gives at the end about fighting for inches gets me every time. Whoever wrote that deserves an award.

2. Gotta love Marriott. They sent my wife and I emails, arranged for airport transport and greeted us with 10 people and a free upgrade when we arrived in Manila. And this stay is just using points. Great service.

3. Mentioned this via Twitter yesterday: Big mistake to watch Contagion (3rd movie I chose) on the flight over. Paranoia about exotic flu strains born of bat and pig gene sequences is not something I needed....

4. I almost never find myself wishing I was on AT&T but what's up with Verizon not having an international data package in the Philippines? Oh well. It's gonna help me unplug from work so perhaps it is a blessing in disguise.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Sunday morning photo

I've been playing with a new iPhone app this morning called Camera Awesome. The fact that it has a self timer and is free were the two main features that attracted me. It also has a set of filters that come for free followed by a slew of others that you add on for 99 cents. The self timer is nice, with room for improvement if the countdown was not in the middle of the screen. Other than that, the app looks like a good addition until Apple starts to build some of these more advanced camera features into the native app. Jozy is a fan as well.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

New Favorites - Seared Tuna

There's a new favorite dish starting to surface at our house and the good news is that is pretty quick and easy to makes: seared tuna with a lime, pepper and thyme crust. Basically I combine lime zest, thyme, salt and pepper, coat the tuna and sear it for a total of two minutes or so. Then you throw a little fresh lime juice on it and you are golden. Tonight I opted to combine it with some clams steamed in garlic, shallots, tomato and oregano. My wife, not a fan of clams in the past might be a convert. Asparagus, raspberries and some wine and I was all set for the evening. As the lone chef, I think my wife traded well since she took on the responsibility of mowing today. That's a trade I'll make anytime.

Bon Iver

I'm having a super lazy Saturday with my wife away at work and a cloudy rainy morning after a long, long work week. A portion of the morning has been spent listening to Bon Iver. Here is a recently released video for his song Towers and then following that, the video for his song Holocene. Both are excellent songs and the videos have a ton of beautiful imagery. I'm hoping the weekend lasts longer than two days.